Performance Anxiety


Sometimes good sense comes to us from the unlikeliest places. Like this new sitcom, Life In Pieces. In episode 17, the mom is freaking out because her daughter Sofia is not practicing for her piano recital. Mom is reliving all the bad memories from her own childhood recital, so she talks with her daughter to spare her the humiliation she endured as a child.

Mom: “Your dad and I are concerned that you’re not practicing. I used to play piano when I was your age but I don’t anymore because nobody made me practice and I wish that they had.”

Sofia: “Well, no one’s stopping you now, go ahead.”

Mom: “I had a recital when I was your age, it did not go well. And I regret that.”

Sofia: “Mom, don’t worry so much. It’ll be fine, I promise.”

So the family assembles in the audience, prepared for humiliation and tears. Sofia delivers a cringe worthy performance, but the moment passes when the boy after her wets his pants and leaves the stage in shame.

LIP Audience

The family gathers backstage to console their daughter, who, strangely, does not seem fazed by having just bombed her recital.

Mom: “Hey sweetie, are you okay?”

Sofia: “Of course”

Dad: “Why?”

Sofia: “They posted the performance order last week Once I saw ‘Wet Willie’ was going after me, I knew no one would remember if I was good or not.”

Mom: “But don’t you want to be the best?”


Sofia: “Are you the best doctor?”

Dad: “Well, no.”

Sofia: “Right. But are you the worst?”

Dad: “No.”

Sofia: “Well, there you go.”

Yes, and there you go. Sometimes we put ridiculous pressure on ourselves to be the best, and end up stressing through what should be wonderful performance experiences.

I’ve been there myself, both as a parent and a child. In 5th grade I was cast as one of the Three Wise Men in the Strandwood Elementary Christmas pageant (back when public schools could still celebrate Christmas). After weeks of rehearsal, Wise Men #1 and #2 started to get cold feet. Their parents gave them permission to quit, but mine did not. They told me,  “You don’t have to  perform again if you don’t want, but you made a commitment and they’re counting on you. The show must go on and so do you.”

With no ‘Wet Willie’ to bail me out, I memorized my lines. For some reason, Wise Men #1 and #2 didn’t quit, but the night of the show they wished they had. #1’s voice cracked and he barely got through his part. #2 completely froze. Nothing came out, and he was dead in the spotlight. Luckily I didn’t bail him out by peeing myself on stage. I sang my part just as rehearsed and made the family proud.  I wasn’t great, but compared to Wise Men #1 and #2, I was awesome. I suffered no shame and went on to many other positive performance experiences.

My kid got sick to his stomach with stage fright once and wanted to skip a performance too. Though I wasn’t as strict as my parents, I insisted he go and support his classmates, even if he decided not to sing. He hung in there and joined the group, but as the curtain opened I was petrified that he would freeze in the spotlight like my Wise Men colleagues.

There was a painful moment as a child froze on stage in agony – but it wasn’t my child. Another family suffered through it while my kid owned the stage like a frenzied Up With People singer. What relief!

If only more of us could be like Sofia. Enjoy the moment, look cute in your outfit, don’t stress the outcome, and enjoy ice cream after the show with your family. Sofia knew the big picture and could look past the immediate threat to her ego. Her self-confidence was never in question because she never placed it at risk.

Sure, this is a bad example of not working hard to do your best. But it’s a great example of keeping your perspective while those around you are losing theirs. So, there you go…


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